Thursday, January 13, 2005

Ancient Greece: Science and Technology

Ancient Greece: Science and Technology - Discusses early inventions, such as calculating devices, machines using gears, steam engines, war technology, and town planning. Some mathematicians included are Thales, Pythagoras, Euclid, Archimedes, and Appolonius. Some topical concepts covered are astronomical discoveries, prime numbers, evolution of the species, and measuring the circumference of the earth.

From the site:

Hellas is the modern name of Greece and was used also in ancient times for example in the word Hellenes to describe all the Greeks (derived from the Roman Graeci, a Latin name (probably derived from Γραικοί as described by Aristotle “... καὶ οἱ καλούμενοι τότε μὲν Γραικοί, νῦν δὲ Ἕλληνες”, Meteorologica) for a small Hellenic tribe (Dorians) from Epirus. Another possibility is that it is derived from Graia in Boetia; some citizens founded in Italy a colony with cities such as “Cumae” and “Nea Polis” (new city) that now is known as Naples or Napoli. The Greeks actually used their local group names such as Athenians, Macedonians, Spartans, etc. The division of Greece in city state probably was a reason for the success, because each city state had its own specific culture and political system, it was not a monolithic block. There were of course some common elements for all these states such as religion, language (dialects) etc. What was important for Greece were the individual personalities. Hellas was the name of a district in Greece that housed a religious confederacy associated with the Delphic oracle. Hellen was in Mythology the son of Deucalion and Pyrrha and his children were Aeolus, Dorus and Xuthus.

First there is practical no original source that describes the technology of ancient Greeks. Archimedes did not consider worth to write about his inventions and the work of Heron is from translations or text written later. We have various indirect sources such as from Vitruvius. A large number of original sources was destroyed by events like the fire of the Alexandria Library, by fanatics, or by natural causes. Devices like the repeating catapult of Dionysius, the planetaria of Archimedes like the Antikythera device, Gigantic ships or steam engines shows that ancient Greeks were not only “theoretical oriented” but that theoretical and applied science are connected together. Only the last 50 years we have a clearer view of the Greek technology and we understand that significant part of this knowledge did not survive. An assumption is that the “aristocratic” Greeks were not interested to gets their hands dirty. But there was a technological advance due to economic reasons or because of the necessity to produce better weapons. And YES! The development of money (probably introduced first by the Lydians) in form of coins and trade was also very important. With Alexander the Great Greek language became the language of Science.

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